Walking through the main gates of Outside Lands, for the final time that weekend I found myself greeted by the expressionless stare of the large Range Dave statue that stood at its entrance. The enchant of Golden Gate park’s woodland grove was nearing its end, but the festival still had a few magical moments in store for attendees. Finding myself not at the Sutro to start my day for the first time over the weekend, I ended up at Lands End and was immediately enveloped by Oh Wonder’s sensually lush sonics. As the delicate lulls of duo Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West pulsated through the thick vapors of their alt-R&B inspired slow-burners, the crowd responded with a wave sluggishly dazed movements. As a band that consistently is made for the intimacy of a darkened venue, Oh Wonder has a distinct ability to make an outdoor festival appearance feel very small. Their ordinarily quiet murmurs overwhelm bury the daylight under a mile of gushing romantics, propelled forward by endlessly heavy surges of synthesizers and drum machines. Closing the gap between them and their fans, Oh Wonder molded their setting into a strength, using their overtly loud prowess as a means of preventing their PBR&B sound from being too underwhelming. From their, Gucht charmed fans with her angelic cries, carrying their weightless bodies like feathers in the wind as she infused her deepest sentimentalities with theirs.
From soothing synth grooves to a spectacle that nearly stole the weekend, Lands End played host to the Muppets’ (yes, those Muppets) house band, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem as they made their show debut. Their twenty-five minute set, which was criminally short to say the least, featured a string of covers of from the Beatles to Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeroes. As their wild eyed drummer Animal proceeded to lose his mind with every song, the band was joined onstage by the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, helping them through an anthemic finale that featured a cover of “With A Little Help From My Friends.”
A playful and silly moment injected into a weekend of massive headliners, the Muppets’ band of hippies brought a break to the wearied seriousness of the weekend. Another quick tone change later, and Third Eye Blind had replaced the Muppets with their generation defining rock anthems. Putting the speakers over on Lands End through their most rigorous test yet, lead singer Stephan Jenkins’ blaring roars ripped across the field and reached the front gates with ear-splitting ferocity. A man consumed by the swirling angst and triumph of his brow-beaten songs, and 51-years-old to boot, Jenkins still reveled in the youthful rebellion of his salad days and the crowd responded in kind. With every thrashing, spine-tingling riff, Third Eye Blind dug their nails into the bittersweet nostalgia of the crowd’s scars–but not before filling them with a deluge enigmatic positivity. In a moment of emotional solidarity, the crowd echoed back to Jenkins and his band mates the ardent chorus line of “Jumper.” Forever one of their most emotive exposes on self-acceptance and the fatal dangers of those without helping hands, with the image of the jumper branded in their mind, the catharsis washed over the crowd.
Making my much needed return to the Sutro, Brandi Carlile was busy whisking the crowd away to the chilling, overcast Washington landscapes of her childhood. Right from the get go, you could hear the Western inflection in her voice, like it was perpetually caught in her throat, yet Carlile’s sound is expansive enough to encompass everything from pop to folk. Joined onstage by a small backing band, which included the Hanseroth twins, Tim and Phil, whose vocal harmonies rang like silver under Carlile’s husky hoots, the entire ensemble gave Outside Lands the “local band, playing the county fair” treatment. But their humble sincerity did nothing to rob them of their ability to pound their boot stomping, pastoral ditties into the dirt of the Sutro as fans swung each other around and danced to soaring tunes like “The Things I Regret.” But the real charm came from Carlile’s bashful excitement at playing in front of a west coast crowd, which she explained made her feel at home. Before entering into the acoustic tenderness of “The Mother,” Carlile shouted her pride to be able to live in a post-Prop 8 state with her wife and daughter, telling the crowd how indescribably wonderful it was to be able to have a family. Fans shouted their happiness at her happiness, and Carlile returned the gesture with an appropriate cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California.”
The eclectic genres changes of Sunday’s lineup took a dive into left field as a massive crowd pushed its way towards Lands End for Chance the Rapper. Joined onstage by little more than his Social Experiment band mate, the exceptional brass peddler Donnie Trumpet, Chance irreversibly altered the tempo of the day with a string of crowd burning, lyrical firestorms. The jumping was non-stop, the mosh pits endless, the crowd got so tight a few bumps almost started a fight or two–but the vibes that emanated from the stage smoothed every wrinkle. As Trumpet sent his piercing notes like direct injections into the ears of the crowd, Chance carried the momentum from the soulful poignancy of his opener “Everybody’s Something,” through two covers (Action Bronson’s “Baby Blue,” Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam”). Exposing himself at times as the talented crooner he can be, as well as his ease at translating the influx of jazz and blues that drop throughout some of his raps into his live sets, Chance spent most of his time flying through the air and dancing rapidly from one end of the stage to the other. Forever a coherent sentimentalist, Chance told the crowd that he almost missed his performance because of an appearance at a charity event started by his grandmother, and as he dedicated “Angels” to her, he asked the crowd to sing with him so loud that they’d hear them at the event.
From Chicago rap prodigy to plucky, rock comedian, Ryan Adams took the stage at the Sutro as its final artist of Outside Lands 2016. Unlike the country-folk artists before him, Adams didn’t embody the same mystical, airy qualities the Sutro had given off in the preceding days–but that isn’t to say his set wasn’t without a bit of weirdness. Joined onstage by two arcade game booths, a vintage soda dispenser, lots of cardboard cat cutouts, a Terminator mask, a tiger, with pirate swords hanging from his mic stand, an American flag stoically draped behind him, along with a bonsai plant and a cauldron of burning incense at his feet–Adams’ stage looked like the bedroom furnishings of a 70’s teenager.
Ever the showman, the fact that Adams cut through the genre-jumping history of his discography with mind-bending savvy (and with one or two deliberate face melters), wasn’t even the main part of his set. In between songs, Adams cracked jokes at the expense of Major Lazer, who was playing the Lands End at the same time. About half way through his set, the stage began to shake, and Adams surmised that someone had their laptop turned up way too loud. He then began to playfully pick on a middle aged man in the crowd who was lying on the hill near the Sutro, “More so than the Dalai Lama, that man is the most comfortable person in the world.” He pointed the unnamed snoozer out again before dedicating a song to him, “This one goes out to my dad.” But the hilarity culminated in an impromptu eulogy Adams sang for two balloons that had flown away in the middle of one of his tunes, he blamed the sad event, of course, on “Major Blazer.” He also played some songs, which highlighted his range as an artist to rip the crowd apart with head wagging rock anthems, to hushing them entirely with the subtle quiver of his folk ruminations. On one such tune, the affecting cover “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” lighters and phone lights waved in the evening air as Adams outlined the tragic odyssey of the song’s broken hearted narrator.
Immediately upon the conclusion of Adam’s set, the crowd flooded towards the main stage, but for the next fifteen minutes before Lionel Richie was poised to make his Outside Lands debut, the area in front of Lands End was surprisingly empty. Stuck in long bathroom and food lines, the rest shuffling in their flower head bands towards the distant Twin Peaks stage for Lana Del Rey’s set, I was able to worm my way to the front for the first time that weekend. Opening with an explosive performance of “Running with the Night” and “Penny Lover,” Richie weeded out the members of the crowd who were hoping to hear a hit or two, then jump over to Lana. It was then that Richie proclaimed to the crowd that he only had one job to do that night, and that was to play all the hits, of which there was literally dozens. But as the opening twinkle “Easy” floated in, the crowd instantaneously doubled in size–and just like Sunday morning, Richie made Sunday night just as buoyantly sublime. From there, Richie’s set was a firecracker of hits that ranged from his solo endeavors to his Commodore years; from the thundering pop-ballad “Ballerina Girl,” to “Three Times A Lady,” the 67-year-old R&B titan dazzled the colossal crowd with his flawless croon and deliriously potent backing band.
Winning over the crowd with his charm more than his hits, Richie appeared to be in fierce competition with them over who was more excited about his second festival appearance. After every song he appeared blown away by the crowd’s reaction, as if surprised his generation-spanning collection was still relevant (often muttering, “Every time I play the Commodores,” in reference to the crowd going absolutely bananas when he did).
After a particularly insane performance of “Dancing on the Ceiling,” a song whose bustling sax instrumentals and heavy synth overtones seemed to surprise the crowd with its modern touch, Richie proceeded to chug a glass of wine, after which he joked, “Hello Detroit!” The only sad note of the entire night was a deceitfully cruel buildup before “Endless Love,” that led many in the crowd to believe that Diana Ross was about to make an appearance–she didn’t, but Richie made it up to the crowd by igniting the largest dance party of the weekend with “Brick House.” He then gave them the now meme famous “Hello,” before ending the night appropriately with “All Night Long,” and even though it was only nine-thirty, with a crowd of thousands moving wildly alongside you, Richie seemed to squeeze an eternity of all night long’s into the span of just a few blissful minutes.
Words: Steven Ward
Photography: Danielle Gornbein